WRAPPED in chain mail, brimming with priceless art and standing as one of the finest examples of the work of a man ‘who gave Glasgow its style’, on first appearances Hill House does not strike you as your usual children’s paradise.

This stunning home, which is in the midst of a ground-breaking conservation project, has always been exactly that – a home, one carefully designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh for a family with five young children.

Glasgow publisher Walter Blackie commissioned Mackintosh to create the house in 1902. Mackintosh was one of Scotland’s most exciting designers and had just completed the first phase of the Glasgow School of Art and his unique vision can be seen throughout the Helensburgh landmark.

More than a century on, and now under the protection of conservation charity the National Trust for Scotland, the building still resonates with the sound of laughter and children playing in the grounds.

“Charles Rennie Mackintosh is obviously a huge part of the story here,” explained Visitor Services Supervisor at Hill House, Emma Sweeney. “But he’s not the only story. For years this was a family home for Walter and Anna Blackie and their five children. They lived in the house and it was always a family home before it became this shrine to Mackintosh.

“People always say that it feels like a home, that it’s really welcoming. It was lived in and it’s a house of many stories.”

At the moment, there is also a touch of the other-worldly about the house at the top of the hill as it stands encased in chainmail. The protective shield is part of the conservation works and offer visitors a truly unique perspective of the house.

You can see the outlines of visitors as they scale stairs and walk up and across the expanse of the roof. From there they can look below to see the property revealed ‘like a doll’s house’ beneath them.

And there is much more in store at Hill House for anyone making the journey to Helensburgh in the coming months.

The box of delights

Why is the building currently encased inside a giant box? As National Trust for Scotland president Neil Oliver explained, Hill House is "dissolving like an aspirin in a glass of water". Decades of rain seeped through the walls and the Trust took bold action. “This is a great example of how the Trust are being brave, which is one of our values,” said Emma Sweeney. “We are doing something which has never been done on this scale before. People love the box, in fact 80 to 90 per cent of the people visiting at the moment say that we should keep it. People are always really surprised when they go in and around the walkways and can see so much of the house. It is a unique perspective.”

A genius at work

Not only is Hill House one of the finest examples of Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s work, it has been shaped by the vision of an artist now receiving the credit she deserves – his wife, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh. As Mackintosh himself said: ‘I have talent, but Margaret has genius’. Margaret worked on specific parts of the interior of Hill House, including her stunning gesso panel and Emma added: “They very much worked together,” explained Emma. “Lady Alice Barnes, talking to Alistair Moffat in 1986, remembered: ‘I always called him Toshie. We all did. Toshie and Margaret. They were very close indeed. You never saw one without the other. They always did absolutely everything together, hand in glove throughout.’ I think that today people understand that and Margaret is getting the credit she deserves.”

The Sleeping Princess

“One of my favourite pieces of work in Hill House is Margaret’s gesso panel, the Sleeping Princess,” said Emma. “You can see it above the mantelpiece and get up close to look at the detail. You can even see her signature in the bottom corner. The reason why I love it is that not only did Margaret design it in situ, the lady of the house, Anna Blackie, commissioned it. It is a creative work which came from two females and there one of the daughters, Agnes Blackie, wrote in her memoirs:“Mrs Mackintosh came to make the gesso panel above the fire place. I remember I sat and watched her do it. She used a big piping bag, like you would if you were icing a cake, and then stuck things on to the plaster. It was very beautiful. She seemed a big woman with a lot of red hair piled up under a hat with a pin through it. She wore what I’d call ‘artistic clothes’ with baggy sleeves …mother liked her and they kept in touch.’ There’s something quite remarkable about being able to stand in the exact place where she made her work.”

A taste of home

Visitors can also enjoy some of the best home cooking in the west at Hill House. The property has a brand-new café which opens from 10am and serves breakfasts. You can ‘do lunch’, with the café serving sandwiches, hot meals and homemade soup – made fresh every day. As you would expect, the menu includes ‘Mack and cheese’. But they also do Mackintosh-inspired Empire biscuits, which are baked by a member of staff who lives just around the corner. The café is also open to the public and you can pop in for food without entering the house – there is no entry fee.

A murder mystery

One for the adults and on September 21 the house will play host to ‘the Godmother’ in a special 1920s themed murder mystery. Capo Da Capo Don Cannelloni has called a meeting of all the mafia families, to hatch a plot, but a shakedown is on the cards and a new gang is stealing their dosh. But who is behind it? Guests will enjoy a drink on arrival and a two-course dinner. Tickets should be booked in advance.

Leave the planet

A host of family-friendly activities take place at Hill House throughout the year and to celebrate World Space Week, a pop-up Cosmos Planetarium will land on October 6. The planetarium dome is a fully digital, 360 degree immersive cinematic theatre experience inside the Hill House Box. You begin by travelling back in time to have a look at early space explorers before mapping the night sky, learning how to navigate and find planets before blasting off to the International Space Station. There is much more planned for the day and, again, advance booking is essential.

Explore the gardens

The house is surrounded by beautiful gardens, cared for by Gavin Smith, who has been gardener here for the past 30 years. It is his life’s work and it truly offers something for everyone, whether you fancy a stroll or are ready to hop, skip and play. There are lawn games and an open space perfect for a packed lunch or a picnic.

You can find out more about Hill House and help preserve it and other national treasures by joining the National Trust for Scotland. By visiting National Trust for Scotland sites or joining as a member you are actively protecting Scotland’s heritage. Funds are invested in properties across Scotland, including eight national nature reserves, 38 gardens and landscapes, 46 Munros, 400 islands and inlets, 26 castles and great houses and thousands or precious artefacts. For more information and to plan your visit enter your postcode at nts.org.uk For your local event visit: https://www.nts.org.uk/